CHICAGO– Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears learn how to score in the quarterback’s second season.
Learning to win was the harder lesson.
Fields will be in the spotlight on his Georgia homecoming as the Bears and Atlanta Falcons put on strong running games on Sunday — and flushing losing streaks. A native of Kennesaw, a suburb of Atlanta, Fields began his college career in Georgia before moving to the state of Ohio.
The Fields family had Falcons season tickets. He said his favorite Atlanta players are quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones.
Little did Fields know how many of his friends and family will attend the game.
“I know my normal people are leaving — my mom, my dad,” Fields said. “But of course it’s exciting, sure. My goal really is to go 1-0 this week and win the game down there.”
Fields, a 2021 first-round pick, has cemented his status as the Bears’ franchise quarterback by leading the NFL’s top-rushing offense. He returns to Atlanta after rushing for 325 total yards in the past two weeks, the highest two-game total by an NFL quarterback and surpassing Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson’s 268 two-game total in 2019.
Fields rushed for 178 yards against Miami two weeks ago and added 147 in last week’s 31-30 loss to Detroit. He will be the number one priority for the Atlanta defense.
“He knows how to move the ball and he knows how to use his legs to make big plays,” Falcons cornerback AJ Terrell said. “We just have to put in the details and make sure we’re attacking him in the right way and not letting go of him, keeping him in check and not letting him out of the pocket safely.”
After 90 points in their first six games, the Bears have scored 91 in their last three games. More points didn’t mean more wins. Chicago (3-7) has lost three times in a row and six out of seven.
The Falcons (4-6) have lost two straight games and three of four, but are still just a game behind Tampa Bay in first place in the woeful NFC South.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
Fields’ homecoming gives Falcons fans a chance to question the team’s decision to bypass Fields and instead draft tight end Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 overall pick of the 2021 draft. The Bears selected Fields seven picks later.
Coach Arthur Smith, asked this week to look back on that draft decision, said: “There’s a lot of players available, you can go down that rabbit hole in a lot of different ways.”
The Falcons traded Ryan to Indianapolis after the 2021 season and acquired Marcus Mariota before selecting quarterback Desmond Ridder in the third round of the 2022 draft. Smith continues to express his confidence in Mariota while Ridder is yet to make his debut.
The Bears have an average league lead of 201.7 yards. The Falcons are fourth with 160.4.
Chicago became the first team in the Super Bowl era to score at least 225 points in five straight games after finishing with 258 points last week.
While every team has a run-first mentality, passing numbers have suffered. Chicago is last in the league in passing and Atlanta is 30th.
The Bears’ quick attack was met this week when the team placed running back Khalil Herbert on injured reserve.
Herbert suffered a hip injury last week while returning a kickoff. He will miss at least four games.
Herbert is the team’s second-best rusher behind Fields with 643 yards and shares duties with David Montgomery. He’s sixth in the league with 6 yards per carry. Montgomery has 434 yards on 115 attempts.
BOOST FOR FALCON’S SECONDS
The Falcons are hoping to have Terrell, their best defenseman, back on the field after missing three games with a hamstring injury.
Terrell returned to training on Wednesday. He said this is his first hamstring injury and he’s trying to be careful not to rush his return.
“I’m pushing it as far as I can just to see where I’m at,” Terrell said.
Bears rookie Jack Sanborn got his first two sacks last week and had an interception on a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that was nullified by a penalty on cornerback Jaylon Johnson. He was one of the bright spots in a gutted and struggling defense.
The Bears have conceded 115 points in their last three games and are 25th in goal defense this season. Chicago traded three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn and star linebacker Roquan Smith last month.
“These guys are going through experiences that they can’t repeat and that they need to have,” said coach Matt Eberflus. “To improve, you need to get the reps.”
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